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May 10, 2009

Coach Arlo Elkins

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It took over five hours to decide and in the end, the No. 22 South Carolina women’s tennis team (16-10) triumphed over No. 10-ranked and seeded Tennessee (18-7) 4-3 in Knoxville, Tenn., to reach the NCAA round of 16. South Carolina now faces Washington in College Station, Texas, on Friday, May 15, at 1 p.m. ET. Washington is the only other team besides the Gamecocks not among the tournament’s top 16 seeds to reach the round of 16 after the Huskies stunned No. 7-seeded Southern California 4-3.

“That was without a doubt one of the best college tennis matches I’ve ever seen or been a part of,” South Carolina head coach Arlo Elkins said. “Both teams played so well on every court and competed so hard. I just can’t say how proud I am of this team for what they’ve accomplished. We’re very eager to get to College Station.”

Gamecock senior Gira Schofield provided the clinching point for South Carolina at the No. 1 singles position against Caitlin Whoriskey of Tennessee. Schofield entered the match having lost her prior two match-ups with Whoriskey during the regular season and SEC Tournament but held on for a thrilling 7-5, 6-7(8), 6-4 triumph in front of a raucous Lady Vol crowd.

“It’s the best feeling in the world, especially when you win and your teammates are hugging you and you put in so much work,” Schofield said. “At the end, to have a victory and make the Sweet 16, it’s just awesome.”

After falling behind 5-1 in the first set, Schofield stormed back and took six straight games to win the set. In the second, she got down 5-2 but came back once again to force a tiebreaker. In the breaker, Schofield had one match point at 6-5, but Whoriskey played three excellent points in a row to send the match to a third set with the team score tied 3-all.

Schofield took an early break to lead 2-0, but Whoriskey rebounded with a break to put the match back on serve. The match stayed that way until Schofield recorded another break to push ahead 4-2. She nearly made it 5-2 after snagging a 40-0 lead on her serve, but Whoriskey dug deep, fought back to deuce and eventually broke Schofield to make the score 4-3.

With the UT crowd cheering loudly for Whoriskey, Schofield kept her composure and once again broke Whoriskey to take a 5-3 lead. Schofield then got up 40-15 on her serve, but Whoriskey managed to fight off the two match points and extended the match to a 10th game. It was in the 10th game that a final break of serve ended the Lady Vols’ season. It looked as if the match would go to an 11th game after Whoriskey stormed ahead 40-0, but Schofield won five straight points, finishing the match off with a blistering crosscourt forehand winner on a short ball at the net.

“I was trying to play one point at a time, that was my main focus,” Schofield said. “When I was serving, my focus was on my first serve, getting it in. On the returns, I wanted to put the first return deep because then I could set up the point and create different options where I could move her.”

“It’s always disappointing to lose, but this one is pretty tough,” Whoriskey said. “She is a very talented player, though, and really played about as well as I’ve ever seen her play today. She came out and just had a couple more winners than I did and I think that is what decided the match.”

South Carolina got off to a strong start by winning the doubles point. Dijana Stojic and Suzanna Mansour recorded the first victory at No. 3 doubles with an 8-2 triumph against Zsofia Zubor and Samantha Orlin. Schofield and Miljana Jocic secured the point by upending Jennifer Meredith and Maria Sorbello on court two by an 8-4 count.

In singles, Stojic took care of Orlin 6-2, 6-2 at No. 3 singles to put South Carolina up 2-0. Zubor scored Tennessee’s first point when she defeated Mansour 7-5, 6-2 at six singles and Meredith tied the match thanks to a 7-6, 6-4 victory against Natasa Vuckovic on court four.

Ana Marija Zubori recorded a critical win for South Carolina at No. 2 singles when she outlasted Natalie Pluskota in three sets 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 to make it 3-2 for the Gamecocks. Shortly afterward, Sorbello pulled a come-from-behind 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 triumph over Jocic at No. 5 singles to set the stage for the exciting finish.

South Carolina is in the NCAA round of 16 for the first time since 1999, for the fourth time under Elkins and for the sixth overall in the program’s history since the NCAA first held a championship in 1982. Besides this season and 1999, the Gamecocks’ other showings came in 1982, 1983, 1990 and 1995. Carolina’s best finish was a quarterfinal appearance in 1982.

#22 South Carolina (16-10) def. #10 Tennessee (18-7), 4-3

1. #43 Gira Schofield, USC, def. #34 Caitlin Whoriskey, UT, 7-5, 6-7(6), 6-4
2. #48 Ana Marija Zubori, USC, def. Natalie Pluskota, UT, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4
3. Dijana Stojic, USC, def. Samantha Orlin, UT, 6-2, 6-2
4. Jennifer Meredith, UT, def. Natasa Vuckovic, USC, 7-6, 6-4
5. Maria Sorbello, UT, def. Miljana Jocic, USC, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3
6. Zsofia Zubor, UT, def. Suzanna Mansour, USC, 7-5, 6-2

Order of Finish: 3, 6, 4, 2, 5, 1

1. #27 Vuckovic/Zubori, USC, vs. #10 Whoriskey/Pluskota, UT, 4-7
2. Jocic/Schofield, USC, def. Meredith/Sorbello, UT, 8-4
3. Mansour/Stojic, USC, def. Zubor/Orlin, UT, 8-2

Order of Finish: 3, 2